BRF executives among 60 charged in Brazil bribery scandal

SAO PAULO:  Two executives at Brazilian poultry firm BRF SA were among 60 people charged on Thursday with taking part in a scheme to bribe health officials, in a scandal that briefly closed global markets to Brazilian meat, according to a statement from prosecutors.

Federal prosecutors in the state of Parana said they accused BRF director Andre Luiz Baldissera and government relations executive Roney Nogueira of taking part in a scheme to bribe officials in return for less rigorous plant inspections.

Others charged include public officials, heath inspectors and other BRF employees.

BRF representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment but in the past have said the company followed industry regulations and was cooperating with authorities.

The executives could not be reached for comment.

The charges come a month after police raided plants operated by BRF and beef company JBS SA in an investigation known as "Operation Weak Flesh." Police said they found evidence of meatpackers bribing inspectors and politicians to overlook unsanitary practices such as processing rotten meat and shipping exports with traces of salmonella.

The scandal briefly threatened nearly $14 billion in exports from Brazil's powerhouse protein industry, as markets from China to Europe curtailed shipments of Brazilian meat.

Most foreign markets soon lifted import bans or narrowed them to the 21 processing plants under investigation after Brazil's president and agriculture minister insisted that the irregular inspections were contained to a handful of cases.